On the Relationship of Suffering and Wisdom

Over 29 years ago, as I was finishing seminary and about to be ordained, my spiritual director at the time gave me some advice on seeking a new one in my diocese. “Look for someone who has suffered,” he said. At the time I wondered about this but have come to find that it was good advice.

If it is endured with faith, suffering brings profound wisdom. As much as I have hated any suffering I have endured in my life, I must admit it has brought gifts, though in strange packages. I discovered gifts and strengths I did not know I had. I experienced things I would have avoided. I learned to seek help rather than always trying to depend on myself. I became better equipped to help others in their struggles. Through suffering my faith grew as did my compassion and generosity for others who have struggled.

Scripture says, A broken humbled heart the Lord will not scorn (Ps 51). A few years ago, my spiritual director shared a strange saying with me: Everything needs a crack in it; that’s how the light gets in. Yes indeed, the light gets in through a broken heart, one with fissures or openings. Rarely does the light get in through a perfect wall, a strong barrier.

This is a painful truth to be sure, and it makes me want to run, but I have learned that it is so. God has done more with my brokenness than with my strength. In a paradoxical way, my brokenness has become my strength. Have you experienced this? Where would we be without our crosses and sufferings? What do we have of true value that has not come at the price of suffering?

Now let me get out of the way and let a Saint explain it. The following is from St. Rose of Lima, whose feast we celebrated yesterday. Here is an excerpt of what was in the breviary:

Our Lord and Savior lifted up his voice and said with incomparable majesty: “Let all men know that grace comes after tribulation. Let them know that without the burden of afflictions it is impossible to reach the height of grace. Let them know that the gifts of grace increase as the struggles increase. Let men take care not to stray and be deceived. This is the only true stairway to paradise, and without the cross they can find no road to climb to heaven.”

When I heard these words, a strong force came upon me and seemed to place me in the middle of a street, so that I might say in a loud voice to people of every age, sex and status: “Hear, O people; hear, O nations. I am warning you about the commandment of Christ by using words that came from his own lips: We cannot obtain grace unless we suffer afflictions. We must heap trouble upon trouble to attain a deep participation in the divine nature, the glory of the sons of God and perfect happiness of soul.”

Suffer well, fellow Christians. Beg deliverance, but realize that even delaying our relief, God is up to something good.

This motet by William Byrd says, “O Lord, according the multitude of the miseries of my heart, your consolations have gladdened by soul.”

5 Replies to “On the Relationship of Suffering and Wisdom”

  1. I am going through some emothional turmoil right now, so this blog is very timely. Also, when I was in a particularly low point last night, the Spirit inspired me to remember a verse from one of the psalms, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.” What comfort!

  2. I have been suffering physically (and now mentally) for three years , because my life came to a screeching halt due to an injury. All that you say here father, is true. The Lord has graciously shown me many things about myself, that I needed to know and pay attention to, change and grow etc. Every day more things come to light. It is a very painful struggle, this growth in spirituality as a result of a very painful physical condition. Thank you for reminding me that this is all a gift from God and necessary for the salvation of the world.

    1. Sure wished I could feel the same as these wonderful people, but my whole life has been suffering, and it tears me apart. The longer I live, the more suffering. When, O Lord, will you ever offer me a tiny bit of relief? Just a tiny?

  3. Trust Him when dark doubts assail thee,
    Trust Him when thy strength is small,
    Trust Him when to simply trust Him
    Seems the hardest thing of all.

    Don’t give up and don’t lose hope. He will not disappoint you, though the wait might feel like one endless and painful night. Joy WILL cometh in the morning. In the meantime, I’ll be praying for you for some relief and much peace, and ask any readers here to do the same. God bless you always.

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